Some 113 members of Parliament (MPs) out of 141, or 80 percent of those Weekend Nation has talked to, say they will reject the Termination of Pregnancy Bill because it is legalising killing.
The legislators expressed this in a survey this paper carried this week to gauge how they intend to vote when the Bill, whose proponents argue will prevent the yearly deaths of 100 000 women and girls from unsafe abortions, is tabled in the House.
According to a 2008 Ministry of Health Magnitude Study, apart from those who die of unsafe abortions, another 33 000 women and girls develop serious complications and government spends K300 million to treat the cases.
Weekend Nation interviewed 141 MPs—117 males and 24 females—chosen randomly in all the districts in the country to give their stand on the Bill whose champions are now popularising it. There are five vacant seats in the 193-member Parliament.
All but one male and one female legislator said they would reject the Bill. Twenty-six MPs or 18.4 percent of those interviewed (8 female and 18 male) said they were undecided and needed to first consult their constituents.
The proposed Bill is lobbying for the safe termination of pregnancy where it poses a threat to the life of a woman, and pregnancy as a result of incest or rape among others. The current law only provides for termination of pregnancy where the life of a woman is in danger.
Apart from equating the Bill to legalising killing, a majority of the legislators who frowned on it argued legalising abortion would be giving a licence to women and girls and their male partners to kill. Others said life is sacred and that abortion is evil.
Rumphi East legislator Kamlepo Kaluwa said: “I don’t support the Bill, and I won’t because supporting it is more like authorising killing, so Rumphi East will not support that Bill.”
MP for Mzimba East, Wezzie Gondwe said, while she personally supports the Bill, but it would be impossible for her to vote for it because people in her area regard abortion as a sin and evil, so she will vote against it.
Nkhata Bay Central legislator Symon Vuwa Kaunda said: “I am a Christian, and the people I represent do not want the Bill. So, no to it! I know fellow MPs have been getting allowances on meetings aimed at supporting the Bill, but I haven’t been attending them. I don’t want it and the people I represent reject it.”
All MPs in the Central and Southern regions who expressed reservations against abortion cited religion and the sanctity of life as the reason for their decision, saying the Bible does not allow abortion.
The undecided MPs, on the other hand, faulted those championing the Bill for not having conducted adequate sensitisation, and that the MPs also needed to visit the people they represent to get their views.
Others said they need more time to understand the contents of the Bill. However, most MPs in the two regions asked not to be identified.
Those who were open about their identities include Mulanje South East legislator, Naomi Kilekwa who said she has to consult her constituents and will go by what they tell her.
Machinga East legislator Esther Jolobala have instructed her not to support the Bill.
On her part, Nsanje North parliamentarian Esther Mcheka Chilenje said: “With a clear conscience as a Christian, I will not support the Bill.”
Mulanje Pasani legislator Ebbie Mathanda said she has not consulted anybody, but she will not support the Bill because “if my parents had problems when my mother was expectant, and had followed the route that the Bill is proposing, there would not have been Hon. Ebbie Mathanda.”
Chiradzulu East MP Joseph Nomale said: “I will go for it if they are able to give convincing reasons why we need to allow our mothers to abort, otherwise my people have said no to it.”
Several faith groups have also spoken against the Bill. They include the General Assembly of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), Public Affairs Committee (PAC), and Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM).
However, Parliamentary Committee on Health chairperson, Mathews Ngwale said ignorance is fuelling rejection of the Bill, admitting that even some legislators do not understand its contents.
“The arguments you hear are that … if my mother had aborted me, would I have been an MP? It’s not about killing, but about the many women that die due to unsafe abortion,” he said.
Earlier, Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (Copua), chairperson Emma Kaliya said growing dissent from religious groups which regard abortion as a sin was a result of failure by such persons to go through the Bill and make reflections.
She said: “In fact, a recent study showed that most of those engaged in abortion are religious people. We are not saying that the Bill allows women to procure abortion anyhow; there are restrictions.
“Most of those opposing this Bill are men, why are they denying the rights of women? Maybe they have not lost relatives from unsafe abortion and when they witness it one day, they will change their minds.”
But the findings of the Weekend Nation survey show that it is not only men who are against the Bill as only one out of 24 female legislators said she vote for the Bill.
Female MPs who are undecided said they have reservations with the Bill.
Dr. Chisale Mhango a gynaecologist working at Mwaiwathu Private Hospital Limited says he supports the Bill because if passed into law it will bring an answer to a huge problem the country is facing.
Said Mhango: “We have a problem at hand, so this Bill is solving that problem to do with deaths and ill health occasionally from unsafe abortions.
“Of course, we have a law that is failing to address that problem, so what is happening now is to revisit that law so that it is able to answer the problem at hand,” said Mhango.n
—Additional reporting by Bobby Kabango, Ntchindi Meki, Suzgo Chitete, Angella Phiri and Lucky Mkandawire and Fatsani Gunya, Staff Writers.